Kings - 4. Pine Flat Dam to Centerville (Route 180)


Kings, California, US

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4. Pine Flat Dam to Centerville (Route 180)

Usual Difficulty I-II (for normal flows)
Length 12 Miles
Avg. Gradient 14 fpm
Max Gradient 15 fpm

Kayak class near Pine Flat


Kayak class near Pine Flat
Photo by Paul Martzen taken 09/01/01 @ low

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
Kings River at Piedra
virtual-50302 500 - 15000 cfs I-II 01h06m ~ 112 cfs (too low)
Kings Rel Pine Flat Lake
dream-101 500 - 15000 cfs I-II 8d00h06m 8248 cfs (running)
Boating prohibited above 10,000 cfs
MILL CREEK NEAR PIEDRA
cdec-PDR 300 - 10000 cfs I-II 02h05m 112 cfs (too low)


River Description

The Lower Kings River, (below Pine Flat Dam) is a very nice river for canoeing and for beginning kayakers and rafters. It is a good summer after work destination. It also has some decent play spots, especially for modern play boats. The scenery is excellent, changing from foothill grasslands to valley oak forest. Mostly the river is quite wide, but there are a number of narrow winding side channels with overhanging forest canopies.

Getting There:
From the north, take freeway 99 to Fresno, then take freeway 180 east to its end. Jog south (right) one mile to Kings Canyon Ave. (highway 180) and drive till it crosses the river at Pierces' Park (the take-out). To go directly to the put-in or for shorter runs only drive a half a block south from freeway 180, to Belmont Ave. and turn left (east). Follow Belmont to Piedra.

From the south, take freeway 99 north to Freeway 198 east. Immediately take the Plaza Drive exit and go north through Dinuba to Adams Ave. Turn left to Frankwood (if going directly to the put-in) or on to Reed Ave (if going to the take-out). Go north on Reed to 180 east, to Pierce's Park. If going directly to the put-in go north on Frankwood to Piedra Rd. to Piedra.

River Mileage and Elevations:
Location Mile # Elevation
(feet)
Put-in 0 560
Piedra Bridge 3 515
Winton Park 3.5 510
Alta Weir 5 490
Avocado Lake 6.3 480
Channel Split 6.5 475
Gould Weir 7.3 465
Mansion 8.5 450
Fresno Weir 9.3 430
Highway 180 12 385

Put-in and Take-out:,
There are many public access points from the dam to Avocado Lake either at Fresno County parks or from roadside turnouts. Below Avocado the banks are mostly private property. At highway 180, the privately owned Pierce's Park provides a nice take-out and camping for small fees. Free but more awkward take-outs can be made at the bridge or just past Pierce's Park.

Flows are released from the dam for irrigation from Spring, through Summer and often into early fall. Typical irrigation releases are from 2000 cfs to 10,000 cfs. Winter releases are generally in the 50 cfs range. Water temperature tends to be very cold, but in late summer when flows drop it can be less cold and more pleasant for swimming.

The rapids are primarily cobblestone riffles, though boulders have been placed in the river in many locations to improve fish habitat. Rapids are separated by long pools or swift water. There are a number of sections with islands that seperate the river into two or three channels.

The main hazards on this run are from trees along the bank which hang branches into the water and which occassionally fall into the channels. Thick brush, tree branches, trunks and roots in the current form strainers that can catch and drown the unwary. Experts give such strainers a wide berth, but novices have a difficult time recognizing strainers, seeing where the current is pushing them and having the paddling skill to move away in time. Novice boaters who swim, also need to be careful about where they swim to shore, aiming for clear bank.
There is a Deadly Hazard just upstream of the put-in. A gauging weir (low head dam), is underneath the bridge upstream of the put-in. There is no easy way to get a complete look at this weir, but looking down from the bridge, you can watch the water boiling up to the surface then rushing back upstream under the bridge. No floating object or person can escape once sucked in. It is a classic "low head dam" with a steep drop and strong reversal that will drown anyone who ventures too close and who is not quickly rescued from outside. Signs warn of the danger and direct you to launch at least 300 feet downstream of this bridge. See the "killing machine" pictures below. Three people have died here in 40 years according to one knowledgable source at Army Corp. A few others have been rescued before they perished.

The backwash is long and steep. Pulling someone out through the backwash is very difficult and requires multiple people pulling an a rope. The swimmer will not be able to hang on unless the rope is attached or wrapped around their body. Paddle clubs and rescue teams should try to develop fast and more effective methods for rescueing victums from this deadly trap.

In the long term, paddlers should work with the army corp to implement design modifications that would reduce the danger of this weir. The function of the weir,(measuring streamflow) can still be achieved with modifications that would eliminate the deadly backwash.
Three Diversion Weirs are passed in the lower half of the river, between Winton park and highway 180. They are all easily portaged.

Alta Weir (portage river right), about a mile past Winton Park is easily portaged on the right. Alta is noted for its interesting surf wave. See Alta Weir pictures and diagram below, and another photo at D. J. Gabbard's Kayaking Page.

Gould Weir (portage river left) is on the narrow, right most channel about a mile below Avocado Lake. At medium and high flows it is easy and best to avoid this channel. At low flows the middle and left channels can get too low so that paddlers are forced into the Gould Weir channel. There are no warning signs.

Fresno Weir (portage river left) is a 6 or 8 foot high dam about 3/4 mile past the fancy Harris Ranch Mansion. This portage is notable for the narrow hidden take out 20 feet from the lip of the dam. There are no warning signs.

There will be a drop in flow below each of these weirs because their function is to divert some flow into irrigation canals. As flows drop in the Fall, the sections below Fresno Weir will become very low, even when upper sections are still fine.
Camping is available at county parks near the dam, or at the private Pierce's Park at Highway 180. There are seven Fresno County parks along this section of the Kings river. The linked page has information and directions to all of these county parks including some which are undeveloped and not well known.

Local Clubs:
For more information on this and other local paddling areas, please feel free to contact these local clubs: SJPaddlers, NEW Kayak Club, or Gold Country Paddlers.

Online:
You can get more information from California's Whitewater Community at boof.com.

US Army Corp of Engineers manages Pine Flat Dam. Their office is on the south side of the river near the base of the dam. From the put-in, just continue south on Pine Flat Rd. another half mile or so and you will see the office on the left. Call: (559) 787-2599

The Kings River Conservancy,
1384 N. Frankwood Ave.
Sanger, CA 93657
(559) 787-9500),
is working to create better public access and stewardship for the lower Kings River from Pine Flat dam to highway 99, by creating greenbelt parks along the river.

Kings River Conservation District
4886 E. Jensen Avenue
Fresno, CA 93725
Telephone: (559)-237-5567
is the local entity which contracts with the US government for irrigation water and then provides that water to individual irrigation districts, such as Fresno Irrigation.

This page for the Fresno Sheriff Boating Patrol lists some of the laws relating to boating on the Kings River.

Fresno County Board of Supervisors
Hall of Records
2281 Tulare Street, Room 3001 Fresno, CA 93721-2198
(559)488-3529
If you want to legally boat this section at flows higher than the present legal limit or if you wish to legally surf at the Alta Weir, contact this Board of Supervisors and complain, or perhaps ask for a special permit.

The water which is stored in Pine Flat reservoir and sent down the Kings River is used up entirely by irrigated farming. Pine Flat was originally proposed to be built by the Bureau of Reclamation. However the reclamation act limited the use of stored water to farms of 160 acres or less. The major beneficiaries of the proposed reservoir owned far greater than 160 acres. So, they managed to persuade congress to have the Army Corp of Engineers build the dam as a flood control project. This allowed the farmers to receive all of the water with no restrictions while the federal government paid for the dam. All the other dams on the rivers that drained into Tulare Lake were similarly built by the Army Corp of Engineers for the same reasons. The following links have information on farming in this region.
J.G. Boswell farm subsidies
Cotton subsidies
The King of California: J.G. Boswell and the Making of a Secret American Empire, by Mark Arax and Rick Wartzman
Book review




Paul Martzen

SIERRA WHITEWATER, MARTIN, 1974

StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2015-07-07 17:49:48

Editors

Stream team editor

Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
0.0Put-inPutin
0.2First Rapid
1.2First Islands
1.6Choinumni ParkN/AAccess
1.9Second IslandsII
2.9Piedra BridgeIIPlayspot
3.4Winton Park BeachAccess
4.5Third Islands
4.9Alta WeirN/AAccess Hazard Playspot
5.6River AccessAccess
6.2Channel Split
7.0Gould WeirPortage Hazard
7.3Low BridgePortage Hazard
8.7Fresno WeirPortage Hazard Waterfall
12.0Highway 180N/ATakeout

Rapid Descriptions

Put-in
Boaters may launch on either side of the river but 300 feet downstream of the bridge with the weir underneath.


First Rapid
The very first rapid is one of the steeper ones on this section, but it is wide and straight.

A long, wide section of flatwater follows. There are small eddies along the sides which are good for practicing eddy turns and peel outs. There are some bedrock features and cliffs along the right side which form small play waves, and sharp eddy lines.


First Islands
Islands divide the river into 3 main channels with several interconnections. Staying far left leads down a wide shallow channel to the mouth of Mill Creek. In May of 2007, boaters reported a barbed wire fence extending out into this channel from the left side. Be very careful to stay to the right of this fence if you venture into this channel. In the past one could paddle even more to the left up the mouth a ways, though the creek only has flows in the winter and early spring. Heading downstream, the left channel is fairly narrow and shaded. The center channel is wide, shallow and sweeping. The right side channel is fairly small and has some sharp turns before it rejoins the middle channel.


Choinumni Park (Class N/A, Mile 1.6)

The river right bank is a county park and campground along a section of flatwater.  The name, "Choinumni" comes from the local indian tribe that inhabited this area.




Second Islands (Class II, Mile 1.9)

Islands divide the river into left and right channels. The left channel is narrow and shaded. Near the end this channel drops steeply to the left then curves around to the right. The right channel is wider and more open but less interesting.



Piedra Bridge (Class II, Mile 2.9)

Immediately below this bridge the river splits into 3 short but steep chutes. The chutes are straightforward, but the currents are boiling and turbulent where they come together. Many a beginning kayaker is tipped over at this spot. Play boaters will enjoy the strong eddy lines and whirlpools.



Winton Park Beach
This beach on river left is a common take-out for a short paddle trip. Winton County Park is heavily used for picnics, fishing and swimming. Another commonly used take-out is about 100 yards downstream on river right.


Third Islands
A group of islands have developed along the outside edge of a large alluvial fan. They form a U shape with the top of the U facing upstream. Two main channels run down the left and right sides of the U, while several small channels also cut through the U at spots. The left channel is long, narrow, shaded, fast and interesting, but the right channel is probably safer for beginners.

Alta Weir (Class N/A, Mile 4.9)

Alta Weir is a low dam structure that diverts water into an irrigation channel to the left. The main hazard is concrete dividers spaced every 8 feet across the river (and the trees that sometimes snag on those dividers). The drop itself has had no reversal for many years and does not now pose a major hazard. Many paddlers do run this weir, but it is also very easy to portage on river right.
The dividers in the weir are designed to hold boards in place that further dam the water. When the boards are in place they create a steeper and more awkward drop. The boards are needed to dam the water at very low flows, but the irrigation district has gotten into the habit of leaving them in all year long no matter what the flow.
Alta is popular for its river wide surf wave which forms just below the drop.
Many groups also take-out just upstream of the weir on river left. There is a steep bank, but the road is next to the river and there is a large parking area.
Stay out of the river left channel above the irrigation gate structure. Water is sucked down and through the bottom of the gates.



River Access

A high voltage tower is on top of a hill on river right. A trail leads up this steep hill to a big turnout on the road.



Channel Split
A narrow, shady, channel splits off and does not rejoin the main channel for over a mile. This left channel bypasses the Gould Weir. Avocado Lake is immediately on the other side of the left bank. The right channel is cluttered with rocks placed in the river bed for trout habitat. These rocks make for fun manuvering. This right channel, splits again, but then rejoins after a short distance. After a half mile it splits again with the right most channel leading to Gould Weir.

Gould Weir

The river splits again, but at lower flows, most of the water goes down the right most channel leading to Gould Weir. Portage on river left starting a ways above the weir. The bank is mostly concrete riprap near the weir and so it is awkward to take out. Close to the weir the banks are steeper and the current faster. A dirt road leads around the weir and to a nice put-in below. At medium and high flows it is easy and best to avoid this channel. At low flows the middle and left channels can get too low so that paddlers are forced into the Gould Weir channel.



Low Bridge

Just after the Gould Weir Channel rejoins the center channel, a private road crosses both branches of the river via metal bridges. The bridge over the main/right channel is very low and blocks passage at higher flows. At 6,800 cfs kayaks can barely slip under, but rafts and canoes must portage. It is a short but awkward portage with lots of stinging nettle. The bridge over river left channel is high up and never presents a problem for boaters.



Fresno Weir

Portage river left. This is a 6 to 8 foot high dam is about 3/4 mile past the fancy Harris Ranch Mansion. White fences on river right continue a ways past the mansion. Just after the fences end, a thick telephone cable passes over the river and the river curves right, then left. Looking downstream boaters will see a small building atop a concrete wall. This wall is the right bank of the dam. There are no other warning sign and the dam itself is visible only as a horizon line. The river curves to the left enough that it is impossible to see the portage till you are on top of it. Once you see these structures hug the left shore and get ready to portage.

There are two options for portage on the river left. The most common option is to slink, one at a time, past the berry bushes to a narrow hole in the bushes about 20 feet from the lip of the dam. If you have beginners somebody should stand in the water and drag them into the hole so they do not drift past. Only one boat at a time really fits. Fortunately the current tends to be relatively slow as the dam is very wide. At high flows, however, this option can be scary.

The second option is to take out upstream of the berry bushes and drag boats 50 yards or so behind the berry bushes. This is a much safer option but is less obvious and gets little to no use, so the trail is usually overgrown and the take-out is not obvious. The local paddling club has discussed putting a sign at this take-out, but has not yet done so.

The land at this portage is public; Bureau of Reclamation upstream, and Fresno County downstream, so it is a legal stopping and picnicing spot in this lower section.



Highway 180 (Class N/A, Mile 12.0)

Take out under the bridge on river right or around the corner at Pierces Park.  There is also  an awkward take up a steep bank just past Pierces Park on the right.  There is a large turnout for parking and a large tree next to highway 180.   County owned land on river right, upstream of the bridge is being developed for fishing and boating access.





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